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The Ford Explorer is a bit of a legend, sort of. First and foremost, the Explorer was forever encased in pop-cultural relevance by being one of the Jurassic park cars alongside the Jeep Wrangler. Need I say more? It has also just been around for a long time. Although the Ford Explorer has been a staple for Ford over the years, consider avoiding the 2021 Ford Explorer and go with the 2021 Mazda CX-9 instead. 

The famous Ford Explorer from Jurassic Park
The Ford Explorer XLT Tour Vehicle from “Jurassic Park” | Paul Butterfield/Getty Images

Is the 2021 Ford Explorer a good SUV? 

The midsize SUV segment is a crowded space. Some of the best vehicles on the market are wading in these waters, like the 2021 Kia Telluride. As Consumer Reports points out, the 2021 Ford Explorer is at best a middling SUV plagued by recalls, poor reliability, and a weirdly high price. There are far too many great options out there to settle for mediocrity. Instead of settling, consider the 2021 Mazda CX-9. 

Consumer Reports gave the 2021 Ford Explorer a 45/100 overall. However, the newest Explorer got a refresh in 2020 and got good ride and comfort scores, the overall product left the testers wanting. 

2021 Ford Explorer Kind Ranch Edition in white driving off road
2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch edition | Ford

The Explorer tested by CR was the turbocharged 2.3-liter in-line four-cylinder paired with the 10-speed automatic transmission. Even though it had the smallest, most efficient motor offered in the 2021 Ford Explorer, it still didn’t get much better fuel economy than its V6 competitors.

If that weren’t bad enough, the 10-speed automatic had rough and jerky gear shifts. Speaking of rough and jerky, the suspension is also reported to be on the stiff side, which is unnecessary for a road-going SUV. 

In fairness, the 2021 Ford Explorer is at least roomy and relatively quiet. This is a welcome respite from the barrage of negative aspects of the Ford SUV. There simply aren’t enough positives to come close to outweighing the negatives. 

Is the 2021 Mazda CX-9 a good SUV? 

The 2021 Mazda CX-9 is an absolute peach. I spent a week test-driving a CX-9 last year, and not only is it more engaging to drive and more reliable than the Ford Explorer, but it is also far better looking. 

2021 Mazda CX-9 in great parked outside
2021 Mazda CX-9 | Mazda

The 2021 Mazda CX-9 scored a well-deserved 80/100 on Consumer Reports. Every aspect of the CX-9 is pleasing and even crosses into downright luxurious at times. The three-row Mazda is powered by a 227-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder paired with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. I won’t say the turbo four is overly quick, but it is snappy enough never to leave you thumping the wheel for power. 

The driving experience in the CX-9 is closer to a Porsche than it is an SUV. The steering is responsive and quick, the suspension and chassis keep body roll to a minimum, and the visibility is killer. To be clear, it’s not a sports car, but it will certainly make you think about a sports car while you’re driving it. 

Not all SUVs were created equal 

The 2021 Ford Explorer is a chunky, clumsy, slow, and fragile SUV that offers almost nothing at the same level as the 2021 Mazda CX-9. For this inferior SUV, you’ll pay somewhere in the range of $32,675 – $54,480, depending on trim level and configuration. 

The stronger choice, the  2021 Mazda CX-9, runs anywhere from $34,160 – $46,805. That means buying the top-tier Mazda CX-9 Signature will save you nearly $10,000 from buying the inferior top-tier Ford Explorer trim.


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